San Antonio Spurs: How would Jalen Smith fit on the team?

May 16, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Jalen Smith (10) dunks in the third
May 16, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Jalen Smith (10) dunks in the third / Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

According to a recent report, the Phoenix Suns have offered the San Antonio Spurs Jalen Smith, Dario Saric, and a second-round pick for the recently acquired forward Thaddeus Young. While a deal isn't necessarily imminent, San Antonio appears open to trading Young and the Suns could be their most realistic trade partner. 

With Smith being the most appealing asset of the trade, choosing whether or not to pull the trigger on a deal will largely hinge on how much the Spurs value him and his overall fit with the rest of the young core. Here, we'll take a closer look at that fit.

Smith was selected 10th overall in the 2020 NBA draft and, while generally regarded as a solid prospect, his selection was widely viewed as a reach. He was projected by many to go in the teens in most mock drafts but was ultimately picked 10th, one spot ahead of Devin Vassell. 

In my opinion, the Suns made a clear mistake in drafting Smith, and his value has since dropped after only playing 27 games last season. He is still an interesting prospect nonetheless, but it will take some time for him to develop into a reliable rotation player. Phoenix will likely be willing to trade him if it means acquiring a player that can contribute right away like Young.

The Suns have a short title window with an aging Chris Paul, and will also have luxury tax concerns once Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are up for contract renewals. Paying Smith to develop on the end of the bench and allowing him to continue losing value ultimately makes little sense.

Jalen Smith would add more youth to the frontcourt

On the other hand, considering they're entering a bit of a rebuild, it could be worth it for the Spurs to take a flyer on him. In fact, before ultimately selecting Vassell in the draft, there was a report that Smith was on the Spurs' radar, suggesting that they already believed in his talent after watching his career at Maryland.

As a sophomore at Maryland, the 6'10" center averaged an impressive 15.5 points,10.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks while shooting 53.8% from the field. Additionally, he connected on 36.8% of his 2.8 three-point attempts per game, suggesting that he could become a stretch five in the NBA.

Were he to join the Spurs next season, he'd provide the team with a fifth big, albeit only being one of only two or three who can space the floor. Even so, with Jakob Poeltl, Drew Eubanks, Zack Collins, and Jock Landale all already on the roster, he isn't likely to play much next season. 

Conversely, were Eubanks included in a deal for Smith, which would keep the Spurs from adding to their already over-capacity roster, he could conceivably see the floor next season. Such a move could also result in San Antonio receiving a future first-round pick from Phoenix instead of a future second, considering the added value.

With Eubanks gone and Collins' health still in question, Smith could play some next season, but would still likely spend most of his time playing in the G-League once their season starts. Still, the Spurs have a good track record of identifying big men who have the skills to fit in their system, and Smith could certainly be one of them. 

Defensively, Smith has shown strong instincts as a rim protector averaging 2.3 blocks per game in his second season in college. He makes good use of his 7’2" wingspan and mobility to challenge shots at the rim, something that could obviously be of value as a potential member of the Spurs. He uses that same wingspan to be an effective rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass.

Offensively, he has the potential to be both a potent pick and pop threat as well as a spot-up threat from three. Smith could also prove to be an effective roll-man in the pick and roll, due to his strong finishing ability, and even has the necessary athleticism to be a lob threat. Lastly, he runs the floor well for a big, making him an ideal fit alongside players like Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker who are all great in transition. 

After next season, Smith could theoretically join the Spurs rotation as the team’s backup center. Depending on who's kept on the roster, he could even see time at power forward given his shooting ability, though it remains to be seen whether or not he can defend away from the basket. 

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Overall, Smith likely wouldn't make an immediate impact if acquired in a trade for Young. Still, he's only 21-years-old and could definitely develop into a stretch five and a rim protector. He would provide the team with a unique option at the center spot in the long term, making him a good fit with the current young Spurs team.

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